a genuine smile

Last week I saw a smile that somewhat bothered me.  It wasn’t the crooked or yellow teeth in the smile that bothered me.  It wasn’t the wrinkled, weathered face that the smile hung from that bothered me.  What bothered me about this smile, was the fact that from what I could see, this smile was a genuine smile.  Quite simply, it was a smile of simple satisfaction and contentment, the best kind of smile.

I remember that day was pretty hot.  The old Chinese man walked from house to house in the mid-day heat, looking through recycling bins and collecting bottles and cans which he tossed into a shopping cart.  By the end of the day he had collected about two garbage bags worth, a decent haul.  And so he sat on a patch of grass in the shade, a genuine smile on his face, a simple smile of content and satisfaction.  The simple satisfaction of a good day’s work and the simple contentment of sitting in the shade on a warm sunny evening.

My eight hours of “toil” had ended. It had been a slow day, not much to do.  For most of the day I sat at my computer in my cubicle in the air conditioned glass building, reading the news and random tech articles. An easy day. I was not looking forward to the walk to my car, half a mile away in the burning sun, it had hit 100 earlier in the day and it was still close to 90 degrees out now. I lingered at my desk a little longer before finally starting on the long and arduous trek. I dreaded it, a scowl on my face as I stepped out of the air conditioned building and into the blazing heat.

Halfway to my car was when I passed him.  A beaten straw hat on his head, a dirty pair of jeans with a dirty beige shirt, a shopping cart with two garbage bags full of bottles and cans– this man had nothing, but he had a smile on his face as if he was the richest man in the world. In monetary terms he was poor of course. The money he earned from collecting cans that hot day, I probably earned in less than an hour sitting at my comfortable air conditioned desk. Yet for what it was worth he really was the richer man at that moment. He shared that wealth. As I passed him, I didn’t say a word, I actually didn’t know if he even spoke English. But as he looked at me and smiled, I couldn’t help but smile back, but it was a sheepish uncomfortable smile.  It bothered me a bit.

It’s been about a week since then. I haven’t seen that man since. I tend to forget easily. I probably would have forgotten that smile, had I not seen this quote today that reminded me of it.

We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. — Fredrick Koeing

And so I’m reminded to remember how blessed I am for what I have and appreciating it, for that is when I truly feel rich. That is what should put a smile on my face.

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